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Old Jul 6th 2010, 02:28 AM
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Default Literal isn’t Lazy

I’ve been thinking a lot about words. It’s what I do. To me, words are a science. Communication is a science. I say one thing, and I can get this reaction. I say another and I can get a different reaction. Each word is like an atom, each sentence is a molecule, and each reaction is real, definable, and profound. Changing one word is changing the entire equation. This is why I love words. This is why I love writing.

Our words, our communication skillz, set us miles apart from all the other scurrying animals on the face of the earth. We can convey our thoughts to one another through our words and our syntax, and that means we can form communities. We can organize our thoughts coherently, we can organize ourselves coherently, and we can be as clear as humanly possible as doing so.

So this is why, whenever I hear a word that doesn’t really deserve to exist (“crunk,” for example), or a definition that is just too stupid to be tolerated I am reminded of the Natalie Portman rap. Specifically these lines: “Don’t test when I’m crazy on that airplane glue/ put my foot down your throat/ till your shit’s in my shoe.”

Literal isn’t lazy. Words are not nearly as gooey as people think they are. They are the absolute most solid creations the human mind has brought forth. More importantly, word meanings aren’t as gooey as people think they are. Literal isn’t lazy. Yet, the more simple the word, the more implications we associate with them. The more Latin we speak, the dumber we become.

For example: most people’s minds will leap to the concept of active renunciation when they hear the word “atheism.” Only, where in that word do you see renunciation? No where. What you see is “without a belief in a God or gods.” Atheism isn’t against God, nor does it deny that one exists. Many dictionaries will tell you that “atheism” is the belief that there is, in fact, no God at all! Does that make sense? Can your logical mind agree with that conclusion?

Literal isn’t lazy. Nor is it wrong. Why would we choose to convolute our speech by definitions that aren’t literal?

I gravitate towards the word “atheism” because the distorted definition is an emotionally charged one. There is nothing emotional or loaded in the definition “without a belief in a God or gods.” To actively renounce, however, is a completely different notion with a completely emotional context. Why? Why do we value the less literal, more emotional definition? That’s like saying “Logos? Fuck logos. We don’t need no stinkin’ logos! Shit! People are strictly emotional. PATHOS is where it’s at!” And so many logos-logical people go along with it!

The word better suited towards the concept that is colloquially described as “atheism” would be well, “antitheism.” Anti- against, theism- the belief in a God or gods.

What gets me is how arbitrarily we define these words when we’re not defining them literally. There is no reason to toss opposition into atheism. But more importantly, why don’t we charge all words with obscure, ill-(or un-)founded definitions? What emotional response does the word “ambidextrous” illicit? None, you say? Why on Earth would that be? Same basic formula as the composition of the word “atheism,” after all! Modifying, unemotional prefix+basic, unemotional root= coherent word.

Literal isn’t lazy. No! In fact, I posit that literal is the most intelligent--the absolute best--form of communication.

I challenge you to think about your words. Not just “atheism,” but all of them. I challenge you to be scientific.
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Old Jul 6th 2010, 06:45 AM
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Default Re: Literal isn’t Lazy

lol, would u like to revive our discussion to the point before ur 6th post to me? Damage control is for a try-hard's.

I was waiting for a time when I could drink alone for the entertainments to ensue, but alas, been busy entertaining a bunch of ladies lately, and contrary to your silly groupie's failed attempt at putting me down, I have pictures to prove it. But I guess evidence was never substance enough to the likes of you.

oh, care to tell me if it is "groupy" or "groupie"? My engrish is so bad I have a proof reading slave following me to wherever I go. He likes to slap me whenever I make a mis-punctuation, and does a far better job than all my internet volunteers combined! But if you slap me harder in the right places, I may consider replacing him.

ps: thanks for the sex education, and telling me the importance of eating one's own shit as part of the healthy diet. Soon you will be relishing it.
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Old Jul 6th 2010, 09:16 AM
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Default Re: Literal isn’t Lazy

What I find amazing is that Margot continues to attempt this conversation. It's like arguing with a troll. No matter how many times you attempt to pull the argument back on topic, he just keeps sliding back into spiteful personal insults and childish wordplay.
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Old Jul 6th 2010, 09:32 AM
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Default Re: Literal isn’t Lazy

It saves a hell lot of everybody's time to discuss my ability of the engrish language (or lack of theroff), especially when we have got the FIFA to watch! Let's just look at the facts- if I don't understand or agree with something, it must be the other guy who cannot speak engrish! This is more convincing if I just rationalize about his place of residency, nationality, looks or last name, etc, those misspelling and punctuations certainly defeats every semantic substance there is in one's words, that is why proof readers are also great thinkers and political leaders! afaik, I presistently exposeded my inability of the engrish language, aka inferiority on every subject I talk about, being completely cooperative in complying to Margot's desperate need to be on the upper hand! And I thought I was doing everybody especially her a favor- talk about being gratuitous, geez. Would u guys like a cookie?

(do you spell it gratuteous or gratuitous?? theroff or therof??)
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Old Jul 6th 2010, 10:52 AM
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Default Re: Literal isn’t Lazy

I don't really have a stake in the definition of "atheism" debate (and I don't understand the three posts above mine), but I'd like to respond to this:

Quote:
Originally Posted by Margot View Post
I’ve been thinking a lot about words. It’s what I do. To me, words are a science. Communication is a science. I say one thing, and I can get this reaction. I say another and I can get a different reaction. Each word is like an atom, each sentence is a molecule, and each reaction is real, definable, and profound. Changing one word is changing the entire equation. This is why I love words. This is why I love writing.
....
Literal isn’t lazy. Words are not nearly as gooey as people think they are. They are the absolute most solid creations the human mind has brought forth. More importantly, word meanings aren’t as gooey as people think they are. Literal isn’t lazy. Yet, the more simple the word, the more implications we associate with them. The more Latin we speak, the dumber we become.
I sympathize with your love of words and writings, but oddly enough that very affection makes me recoil from the notion of words as 'science'. In fact, one of my favorite things about words and language is how "gooey" they can be, especially in fiction and poetry. One of my favorite poems is ee cumming's "anyone lived in a pretty how town." I love the way it conveys meaning and emotion, and even tells a recognizable story, almost entirely through nonsensical phrases. If you read all the words and phrases literally, it's a meaningless jumble, but if you're willing to let the language be flexible, to let it be "gooey," than it's quite beautiful.

Furthermore, I love the way that poem can mean different things to different people, or even mean different things to me at different times. Scientific experiments are supposed to be repeatable. If Force=Mass*Acceleration is true today than it had darn well better be true tomorrow. But the meaning of words changes with place, time and individual person. The same word can mean something different today than it did 200 years ago, or than it does 200 miles away. The adaptability of language is at times confusing, but its also wonderful in its way.

Anyway, I agree with you that "literal isn't lazy"; sometimes it's absolutely essential. But there's so much more to language, to words, than just their literal meaning, and I'd hate to see that belittled.
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Old Jul 6th 2010, 11:30 AM
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Default Re: Literal isn’t Lazy

Likewise, I haven't a clue what the topic is here or what you are all taking about.

I also agree with dilettante here that the beauty of words is their imprecision. Language is not mathematics and I've always found one of the best ways to annoy people generally is to insist upon the literal meaning of their words and sentences.

* * *

Anyway, I'll just point out the curious history of the word "atheism" - that its actual origin has a meaning entirely different from the literal meaning of the word and totally different than the common usage of the term.

The word originates a as a Christian term of abuse applied to other Christians whom they feel are not supporting the institutional church with sufficient vigor. Indeed, the term was originally used by theists against other theists!

It is only in the later half of the 20th century that the term has entered public usage and immediately started taking on whole different meanings, of which, the literal meaning is probably the least common and least functional. And of course, some Christians will use the term in its original sense AND in its new sense almost similtaneously!

About the only thing that is certain about the word is that its literal meaning is almost never invoked, understood or favored by anyone.

(I find the word so dysfunctional that I prefer the term "adeist" to describe my religious viewpoint)
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Old Jul 6th 2010, 11:58 AM
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Default Re: Literal isn’t Lazy

It wasn't to anyone in particular. I was just thinking about communication, and how we define words. This was definitely inspired (in part) by my conversation with WFCY, but honestly, it isn't about it. (BTW, thanks, bro. Not like I didn't post that for a reason, or anything.)


My point is to get people--everyone--to think very specifically, very scientifically, very deliberately, about how they communicate.

Language is such useful tool that I think we forget how it works. It's like muscle memory: if you're walking through your house at night, you know where everything is, and you can navigate without sight. It's cool. We can get through to our beds without barking our shins. But if we think about trying to navigate that room, suddenly we're aware of all the pitfalls. We're in danger of tripping, because we're aware of what we don't know. We turn on the light.

That's what I'm trying to say. Not with just "atheism," but with all words.

I brought up the word "atheism" because it illustrates my point. The word is NOT dysfunctional. We are. Turn on the light. Think scientifically.
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Old Jul 6th 2010, 12:16 PM
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Default Re: Literal isn’t Lazy

Quote:
Originally Posted by dilettante View Post
I don't really have a stake in the definition of "atheism" debate (and I don't understand the three posts above mine), but I'd like to respond to this:



I sympathize with your love of words and writings, but oddly enough that very affection makes me recoil from the notion of words as 'science'. In fact, one of my favorite things about words and language is how "gooey" they can be, especially in fiction and poetry. One of my favorite poems is ee cumming's "anyone lived in a pretty how town." I love the way it conveys meaning and emotion, and even tells a recognizable story, almost entirely through nonsensical phrases. If you read all the words and phrases literally, it's a meaningless jumble, but if you're willing to let the language be flexible, to let it be "gooey," than it's quite beautiful.

Furthermore, I love the way that poem can mean different things to different people, or even mean different things to me at different times. Scientific experiments are supposed to be repeatable. If Force=Mass*Acceleration is true today than it had darn well better be true tomorrow. But the meaning of words changes with place, time and individual person. The same word can mean something different today than it did 200 years ago, or than it does 200 miles away. The adaptability of language is at times confusing, but its also wonderful in its way.

Anyway, I agree with you that "literal isn't lazy"; sometimes it's absolutely essential. But there's so much more to language, to words, than just their literal meaning, and I'd hate to see that belittled.

You think there isn't science in that? You think Mr. Cummings didn't choose his words? You think he wasn't aware of the equation? Even ambiguity is measured--don't think that it isn't.

You think I just threw out "gooey" without thinking about it? There was science to it, and the reaction towards it was expected. "Gooey," and "skillz," weren't accidents.

Not recognizing the science of words, the science of syntax, is the greatest failing in communication.

And I beg you, show me one word where the literal meaning is less powerful than the "gooey" meaning. Lawd knows, Creative Writing 101's mantra is "SHOW DON'T TELL. Create CONCRETE IMAGES, avoid CLICHE. AMBIGUITY IS CREATED THROUGH THE CONCRETE." I can send you the Powerpoint, if you like. Hell, I could probably even send you my professor. She loves to share the mantra.

When you read your Cummings poem, do you not first think about the literal acts of "sowing" and "reaping?" The jarring juxtaposition of "he sang his didn't he danced his did" is supposed to bring your mind with it. "Sing," the verb, comes before the noun. You think about singing before you think about the abstract noun. Cummings is bringing the abstract into the literal, not the other way around. It's like he's pointing to it and saying "LOOK AT HOW FUCKING WEIRD THIS IS." The literal is still profound. The literal is still primary. Without the literal, the "gooey" means nothing.

People are always the variable, words aren't. That's my argument. Prove to me why words should be variable. Show me where that is effective.
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Old Jul 6th 2010, 01:02 PM
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Default Re: Literal isn’t Lazy

Quote:
Originally Posted by Margot View Post
People are always the variable, words aren't. That's my argument.


What do you mean when you say 'words aren't variable'? How do words have any existence apart from people? It's not as if a word has some transcendent objective meaning to which we are obliged to conform. We invent words, why should we not be able to change them, to bend them?

The word "atheist" (or any other word) means whatever people take it to mean. If everyone in the world except you thought that "atheist" meant some sort of finger sandwich stuffed with bacon and spinach, then it would be you, not them, who was impeding clarity by sticking to an out-dated and obscure definition. And using words to impede clarity sabotages the whole purpose of language.

Now I strongly agree with you that we should all think carefully about how we choose our words and consider how they will be interpreted. But that should be the deciding factor: 'How will this be interpreted?' 'Will it convey what I want it to convey?' Not 'Is this the literal (or scientific) meaning of the word?'

WRT to cummings, I have no doubt that he carefully considered each word in that poem. But quite obviously, upon consideration, he decided that he could better convey what he wanted to convey if he did not tie himself to the literal meanings. You can't literally "dance a didn't". The literal meanings certainly come to mind and are (as you said) jarring. But if you stop there, jarred by the nonsensical nature of the literal definitions, then you miss the beauty of the poem. You have to, you're meant to, go beyond the literal.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Margot View Post
Prove to me why words should be variable. Show me where that is effective.


Well, I could refer you to the finger sandwich example, or back to cummings (one of the beauties of the poem is that it can mean different things), or you can simply look at almost any word in the OED.

"Humour" once referred to particular bodily fluids. Over time it also came to refer to moods associated with those fluids. Now it still can refer to moods as well as to things which cause amusement, but we've pretty much abandoned the original meaning altogether. And yet we still have a perfectly good and useful word.

It would only hinder our ability to communicate if we demanded that "humour" must only be used in its original sense.

And, good lord, what would become of Shakespeare if we demanded a literal interpretation of all his words and phrases?
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Old Jul 6th 2010, 09:03 PM
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Default Re: Literal isn’t Lazy

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Originally Posted by Michael View Post
Likewise, I haven't a clue what the topic is here or what you are all taking about.

I also agree with dilettante here that the beauty of words is their imprecision. Language is not mathematics and I've always found one of the best ways to annoy people generally is to insist upon the literal meaning of their words and sentences.
It's a little old discussion Margot and I had on facebook while ago. About 6 exchanges into it the topic turned into smack at my inability to comprehend and express in the english language. She was not only able to tell me what my religious beliefs were, but also what a stupid foreigner I am, quote: "you live in Germany.... your grammar, punctuation, and general language mechanics suck." basically all the way til the end- she even took up a couple of intentionally placed baits to prove my point. lol, you can imagine the entertainments that she and her friends had provided me to be gloating up here to you about. But I am not the one to blame, she wants to rekindle this discussion here because I guess it wasn't enough for her ego.

Words are not science. Or else we would not need science, or formal languages such as propositional or predicate logic, or more descriptive ones such as montague grammar or lambda calculous, etc, to express and communicate sicentific information. By drawing up a wishy-washy metaphor between expression and reaction of human interactions, with that of chemical/physical causal-effect relations, does not equate them on the same level of verifiability, precision, or objectivity. Human behavior is not the same as atoms or plate tectonics. It's like economics is not high school algebra, one always add up in the end, there is right or wrong for your teachers to grade, the other is about human behavior which nobody could predict for certain over the course of years into the future, and is usually ideologically driven (likewise with political "science"). Margot wants to drive her point with the metaphor in the op- well, philosophers like Feigl, Ayer, Popper, Kuhn, etc, all in fact drew up a bunch of criterias one simply had to check em up before open one's clueless mouth (all these names and terms I'd be happy to explain in a new thread after Germany wins FIFA, before that I am strained on time). Natural language does not pass any of them, this is not even factoring in that people often deliberately lie. That is why Frege had to come up with something more precise, based on bivalency in his Sinn und Bedeutung. These (Frege's and others after him) formal languages are partial in the sense that they describe only a fraction of the meanings that are available in human interaction, and a very small fraction, so there are certain statements in our languages which can be classified as analytic/a priori truths or empirical/posterori truths, as per logical positivism for example, and so on. Religious beliefs and its classifications, happens to not belong to them. I should also say, Margot's definition of Atheism is her own, and insufficient if not outright wrong as a standard definition compared to what is currently available, but that is another topic.

There are ofc people who had to use their limited knowledge in one field to claim authority over all the others. People in PR does it for a profession, but an occational charlatan here and there, or just an ignorant kid trying to prove something. I suppose if you can write beautiful prose with fancy metaphors and flash around buzz words one only find in an SAT study brochure, suddenly science is everything you say it is, and the laws of gravity is reduced to Virginia Woolf. Pseudo science is just that. Congratulations.
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